This is the third post in a series on The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, a book and a self-study program developed by Julia Cameron in the 1990s. Each week of the program is focused on a theme. In this post, I’ll be looking back on Week 3: Recovering a Sense of Power.
By the third week of doing The Artist’s Way, I had found a rhythm and was already starting to see some changes in the way I approached my creativity and expression. The book and process require a good amount of personal reflection and introspection. Writing the morning pages each day meant I was tapping into the feelings and thoughts of each day, and the weekly exercises meant a bit of digging around in the past to understand the present.
‘Take your life in our own hands and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame.’
Cameron divides the reading for the week into a few topics to support the exploration of power — anger, synchronicity, shame, dealing with criticism, and growth.
It felt right to start thinking about power in week three. By this time, I had already begun to reflect on the ways I had given up my power over the years. There were times I hadn’t trusted my talents and passions were worth developing. That’s the big one that still feels sticky. I let other people’s concerns and fears overshadow my own instincts, and I had let my creative spirit fade over time.
‘Anger is meant to be listened to. Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand. Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because anger is a map. Anger shows us what our boundaries are. It can show us where we want to go. It lets us see where we’ve been and let us know when we haven’t liked it. Anger points the way, not just the finger. In the recovery of a blocked artist, anger is a sign of health.’
Anger can be a good place to begin because it’s an intense emotion. Overwhelming anger can be blinding, but if we listen as soon as it speaks, it can be a helpful tool.
I’ve had a mixed relationship with it. Although I feel the fuel of anger, and I find it a useful indicator of what’s not working, I’m cautious of anger’s ability to fuel drama and keep me emotionally looped into situations and people that I would be better avoided altogether.
Lately, I’ve taken a flare of anger as an indicator that I should start walking away and making space. Anger tells me what I should avoid.
Cameron says anger ‘tells us that we can’t get away with our old life any longer.’ With this in mind, I’ve used it as a tool to help me decide which parts of my old life I should leave in the past.
My deepest anger is with myself, and the times I didn’t trust the worth of my own creative expression and power. As Cameron writes, anger will ‘always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves.’
‘Answered prayers are scary. They imply responsibility. You asked for it. Now that you’ve got it, what are you going to do?’As I write this, I wish I had a sweet little story of the perfect synchronous moment that’s shown up now that I’m reclaiming my personal power as an artist. I don’t have this story, but I have a deep sense of alignment, and that will have to do for now.
I’ve had moments of synchronicity, and as I travel around for the next few weeks, I’m opening my heart up to life’s little surprises. Synchronicity allows flow and action without hesitation. Moments feel perfect, like a story that couldn’t have been written any other way. The world’s magic is made visible.
The way Cameron describes luck, it seems to have a two-part power. It begins to show up when we make ourselves open, and it’s persistence to keep popping up even when we try to turn away. It beings to feel like our real luck, the stuff that feels good, that empowers us, is our true path that can’t be avoided.
‘We like to pretend like it’s hard to follow our heart’s dreams. The truth is, it is difficult to avoid walking through the many doors that will open. Turn aside your dream, and it will come back to you again.’
‘Often we are wrongly shamed as creatives. From this shaming, we learn that we are wrong to create. Once we learn this lesson, we forget it instantly. Buried under it doesn’t matter, the shame lives on, waiting to attach itself to out new efforts. The very act of attempting to make art creates shame.’A few years ago, I decided to start painting again. I had stopped, but I missed it and wanted to begin again. I found my paints and brushes hidden away in storage containers stored high on a closet shelf.
I set up a little painting area by a window in my living room. When I started to paint, I was overwhelmed by a feeling that I would paint myself into poverty. There was a clear voice that I could hear like a person was speaking right beside me. I paused and put down the brush, a bit timid and frozen as I had listened to a ghost.
I’d start to paint again, and this voice would come up each time the paint hit the paper. I wondered if it had spoken before, but in a whisper to my subconscious. I suspected it had, and I was grateful that this time it spoke so clearly, so loudly. This time, I could decide to listen and talk back.
‘Art opens the closets, air out the cellars and attics. It brings healing. But before a wound can heal it must be seen, and this act of exposing the wound to air and light, the artist’s act, is often reacted to with shaming.’First, I tried logic. Painting myself into poverty doesn’t make sense. I was making things I could sell. Isn’t that what painters did? They made paintings and sold them.
But, my old way of painting as a pastime in-between ‘real’ work meant that painting was starting to become an expensive hobby. That was true, and I couldn’t deny it. By moving the creative work out of my hobby space, it meant I was now responsible for making money with it. Maybe the voice was right.
I could feel with each stroke that I was moving closer to poverty. It was as if I was slowly digging my own grave.
Next, I tried feeling into it. With each stroke, I sensed I was moving closer to a dark place like I was slowly digging my grave. There were shame and fear there.
Then I tried listening to the voice and looking at myself from a distance. I wondered if I could see what was happening from a different point of view. Standing back a bit, I could see the shame of poverty was creating a fearful loop.
I then wondered where the shame was coming from. Was it my shame, or had it been handed to me? Either way, I didn’t want it anymore. It was stopping my progress.
I decided I was ready to quiet this stranger’s voice so I could move forward and reclaim my power as an artist.
‘Art brings things to light. It illuminates us. It sheds light on our lingering darkness. It casts a beam into the heart of our own darkness and says, “See?”’
It was time for making space for me and accepting my expression as inherently valuable. Would I make money from my paintings? If I let myself worry about this too much, I’d never get to the good work I had inside me. I’d assume there was value there, I’d give myself that gift, the space for nurturing my creativity. I stood up to the voice and let myself feel loved, not shamed for my creative spirit. As Cameron writes, ‘the antidote for shame is self-love and self-praise.’
The 12-week program of The Artist’s Way was a catalyst for my personal growth. Each week felt like a leap. In the period following my completion of the program, I felt like the sky was the limit.
Since then, there have been ups and downs, and I’m reminded that growth is not a consistent or linear process. Cameron writes ‘Very often, a week of insights will be followed by a week of sluggishness.’ As with our teenage years, there are spurts where the occasional jump is made. There are also valleys of despair, frustration, and quiet reflection. As I continue to grow, I try to be patient and find value in each of these places.